‘The color of your skin has no bearing on what you love to do’

When Eddie Gill IV went fishing for the first time with his grandpa at the age of three, he never would have dreamed of planning a two-week boat expedition from the Ohio River to the Gulf of Mexico.

Since his first day with a rod, Gill hasn’t been able to stop fishing.

“I’ve always loved the outdoors,” he says. “It has brought peace to my life in a lot of different ways.”

Gill, right, learned to love fishing from his grandfather, left.

Gill, of Carmel, Indiana, has been finding ponds and lakes since he was four—going wherever he could to cast a line. After receiving a basketball scholarship from Grace College in Winona Lake, he committed to the school and started his first year on campus as an environmental science major. As he grew closer to his teammates, Gill naturally took them out to go fishing. He was surprised to find out that many of his fellow Black teammates had never touched a fishing pole in their lives.

Gill says this wasn’t his first time noticing a lack of exposure to outdoor industries in Black communities.

“When I started taking fishing more seriously, I became conscious of it,” Gill says. “People would ask me what I like to do for fun, being a Black athlete. Whenever the words ‘fishing’ or ‘being outside’ came out of my mouth, I always received astonished looks. Sometimes, people would make comments like ‘Hey, that’s not very Black of you.’”

Gill and his grandpa enjoy a day on the water.

After years of receiving this response, Gill has developed a passion for spreading awareness of the issue and exposing more people of color to fishing and similar hobbies.

“I’m trying to promote outdoor opportunities for everybody,” he says. “Your skin color doesn’t have any impact on what you love to do.”

In June of 2020, as racial tension started to rise in Northeast Indiana and around the world, Gill had an idea. To spread his message, he would take a boating trip from White River, Indiana, all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. He would travel during the day, fish in the evenings, and spend the nights in marinas. He called it “Journey for a Cause.”

Once the idea spawned, he couldn’t keep quiet about it. He had to get people on board, quite literally. So he reached out to his two childhood fishing friends, Clayton Wright and Justin Shupe, and asked them to join him on his journey.

“I have known Eddie for nearly my entire life,” Wright says. “We had discussed doing this journey before, but I thought nothing concrete would ever come of it. When I learned that we could do this amazing adventure for such a meaningful cause, I knew I had to be a part of it.”

A scenic view of Webster Lake near Grace College.

The crew set up a fundraiser and an Instagram page to start spreading the news and planned their trip for the summer of 2021. Since then, they have received a tremendous amount of support.

“People who I haven’t spoken to in years have texted me, called me, and emailed me to get involved, whether that’s donating, sending the GoFundMe to their contacts, or sharing the fundraiser on their own social media,” Gill says. “I’ve received an incredible amount of support.”

Scott Moore, Gill’s basketball coach, is one of his faithful supporters.

“Eddie is a tremendous young man, but what I like most about him is that he always puts his words into action,” Moore says. “Eddie loves Grace College and loves our basketball team, and I have a feeling that this journey could have an impact on a lot of people.”

Gill has developed a passion for spreading awareness about outdoor activities.

The money from the fundraiser will pay for the expenses of the trip, including fuel, dockage costs, food, and a boat. A portion of the proceeds will also be given to nonprofit organizations that are working to support racial justice and equality.

“The goal is to bring awareness to this issue,” Gill says. “Even beyond Journey for a Cause, I want to continue the work of exposing kids and adults to outdoor industries who haven’t had those opportunities before. Whether it’s taking them on a fishing trip or to Bass Pro Shops, I want them to have the chance to decide for themselves if they enjoy these activities.”

As Gill’s dream for equality in outdoor industries launches forward, so do his boat trip plans. The plan is to go from the Ohio River to the Tennessee River, then to the Tombigbee Waterway until Mobile Bay in Alabama. His journey will end in Navarre Beach, Florida, where he will meet and celebrate with his family, friends, and supporters.

Those interested in supporting Gill can help by donating to his fundraiser and spreading the word about his journey, he says.
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Read more articles by Kyrsten Newlon.